A Land Far, Far Away by Babawale Obayanju

“There is a land far, far away, It’s called Addis Ababa
Chant with I and say
There is a land far, far away, It’s called Addis Ababa
Wonders of the world, The great River Nile
Is found there in Africa
The great treasure of Axum, Axum of Zion
It’s found there in Africa.”… Song by Culture

The Quest
On a quest to join the African Movement Building space for the peoples and the environment of Africa, a visa was required to journey from Lagos to this Land found in Africa. Application made, eighty-two dollars paid.
Visa status: New, Visa Payment: Approved
But three days after no response to emails, no telephone number to call
The journey to this land now lies in Oblivion.

Another try, another payment, Visa Payment: Approved. Visa status: New. Three days later, with still no hope in sight, my ticket revoked, box unpacked, An email was received – “Your request for Ethiopian e-Visa with Reference Number XYZ has been approved.”

Do I rejoice? Do I press “ignore”?

No, let me journey to this land proclaimed and acclaimed as “never being colonized”. Let me see if a never-seen colony and civilization will be the outcome of this journey to a land far, far away.

Arriving at this Land after over 7 hours from the ancient city of Benin, the cradle of black civilization through Eko en route this Land far, far away, it was dark, not so much to behold and quench my curious taste. A glimpse at dusk via the balcony of my room felt like somewhere in Berlin. High risers, neon lights, huge ad boards, big fast food names adorning the streets, flashy rides, … Ummh, I thought I was going to see a “never seen Place”.

Who will take me to Town, who will help me get a ride to see the non-colonized people and streets of this Land Far, far away? Ishh … how I have longed to see a form of civilization different from Lagos or Ivory Coast or Oslo or Egypt or Berlin or Peru or Vienna or in the books of America but wait a minute, all I see is a semblance of the high and lofty risers, big bridges, bright incandescent lit buildings that floods cities of Paris, Dubai, Abuja, and Egypt to say the less.

Amidst this surprise, I was glad a little bit to see how the people still found a way to preserve the simplicity of life. A drive down the road to the stadia was a “ride” long lost and gone in Nigeria since the 80s – the Lada “still proudly cruising amidst the Volkswagen electric SUVs, big bridges and other modernity. Still curious, I “rolled my slippers “to the Addis stadium in the company of brethren from the East of Africa to behold the beautiful remains of cattle, goats, and sheep now living as bags, belts, jackets/ coats, shoes, and wallets in local shops surrounding the sport arena.

Kizuri Chajiuza Kibaya Chajitemebeza – A good thing sells itself, a bad thing must be advertised.
Various shades of tan behind large windows with obvious shop signs, benches for a drink, local tea centers, table soccer gamers, and plays of table tennis greeted us we climbed down the stairs to window shop on products from the end life of goats, sheep, and cattle. A glimpse into some of them revealed beautifully crafted, leather bags, boxes, belts, shoes, wallets, soccer balls, sandals, and jackets.

Amid these was a shop with no noticeable signage save a shop number plate, first observed by Dale a comrade from Kenyatta’s kingdom – Kenya. They were producing these products right here at the stadium.

Without a plan to make images of any craft man even when I had a Fujifilm camera with me, but by divine orchestration, I was moved to document this shop with no name but excellent quality leather different from the other shops.

Good evening sir,
Good evening. How are you? He said.
I responded fine.

Unconfident enough to approach him, I went out of his space, while he continued having beer with this friend.
I summoned courage to go back, to the stranger with my camera in my bag.

Like a dog who sensed fear, He said – do want to take photos?

In my mind…Who asks a hungry man whether he wants food? I shouted yes.
I reached for my bag and the rest is history.

Meet Temesgen Zewde

Leather work for him, began when he was 23 years old. He just had a fond interest in making products from dairy animals as is it one of the things my country is known for worldwide. It was his passion. He loved to design things to meet people’s needs.
He is a custom-made designer of leather bags and jackets. Making jackets and bags based on request and preference. His shops for the processed raw materials from one of many tanneries outside the city of Addis Ababa.
He said that he uses sheep skin for jackets because of their tender nature (even in death sheep are still tender — what a wow!) while his bags are made from cow/cattle hides.

A walk into his showroom, the fresh smell of good quality, and the smile of an over seventy-year-old man who has led General Leather Goods Maker (GLG) for 50 years will welcome you.

Temesgen and His daughter Esey joyfully gave me a good impression of the people of Addis Ababa. His warm welcome made me visit him again and this time not alone but with other friends who were also visiting this land far, far away.

This shop validates the saying A good thing sells itself, a bad thing must be advertised.

I am still curious to learn about the people of this Land Far, Far away – the place they call Addis Ababa (meaning “new flower” in Amharic), the capital of Ethiopia. A city situated at 2,440 m above sea level on a plateau surrounded by hills and mountains. This is the largest city and its administrative and communications center in Ethiopia [1]

Watch a short slide of my visit to GLG.

This is a contribution by Babawale Obayanju, a storyteller and communicator based in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria.

[1] https://au.int/sites/default/files/newsevents/workingdocuments/28063-wd-information_note-ethiopia_-_addis_ababa.pdf